Gratitude arises naturally and spontaneously in my life—when my newborn son coos with delight, when my husband graciously cares for everyone in our growing family, and when I sit in a circle of meditating friends cultivating compassion for the world. Yet like everyone, I am aware of moments when gratitude does not arise easily.
In Buddhism, there is a teaching: “Be Grateful to Everyone.” This is an invitation to open ourselves to every person and every circumstance we encounter in our lives with the understanding that everything that we experience is in support of our awakening. Pema Chodron reminds us that we can learn from any and every situation, and it is often the difficult ones that teach us the most. I love the idea of being grateful to everyone, but I often find it quite difficult to do so.
I recently listened to an interview with the Austrian Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast titled “The Anatomy of Gratitude.” In the interview, he says: “We can’t be grateful for everything, but we can be grateful in every moment.”
He encourages us to look for the opportunities that are available in every moment, especially during difficult times. It is these opportunities that we can be grateful for, even if we cannot feel gratitude for the actual circumstances.
The practice of gratitude is about stepping into a larger more open-hearted space and making room for the fullness of our experience. What do we do when our experience is painful or difficult? How do we meet ourselves and others when there is pain or darkness present? Gratitude is a way of turning towards our experience with openness and appreciation – for all of it – not just the parts that feel good.
David Steindl-Rast says:
Have the courage to let yourself down into the depth that gratitude opens up. When you are confronted with something for which you cannot be grateful, let go of all thought and sit quietly. When you get sufficiently quiet, without having to figure something out, some answer emerges. It may not happen in one sitting, it may take days or even weeks. When you let go of resistance, there is just acceptance. This quiet holding leads to a new birth.”
This is our practice. Day after day, we come into stillness and turn our attention inward so that we can open outward and extend ourselves to the world from a place of clarity, compassion, and gratefulness.
I encourage you to start your days with a little bit of formal meditation and contemplation on gratitude, and notice the moments that are made available to you throughout your everyday life. How does life feel different when gratitude is at the forefront of your awareness?